Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wheat IPAs — Pyramid vs. Shock Top

Wheaten IPA
ABV 6.5%

Shock Top
Wheat IPA
ABV 5.8%

It's been interesting to watch the big breweries try to infiltrate the craft beer market. Blue Moon Belgian White (brewed by MillerCoors) is perhaps the most popular, offering a sweeter and more complex option to those who are looking to upgrade from the watery tastelessness of canned macrobrew. These new Wheat IPAs appear to be an attempt by Pyramid (not quite a macrobrewery, but a huge microbrewery) and Anheuser-Busch (brewer of Shock Top) to grab a share of this market. We're always game to try a new IPA style so the battle was on.

The Pyramid was brownish-orange with an earthy, roasty and slightly soapy aroma. The flavor was clean and malty but mostly devoid of any significant hop presence. The finish was a bit soapy as well with just a touch of bitterness. 

The Shock Top was reddish-orange and hazy. It had a much sweeter aroma with some spice, citrus and floral notes. The flavor was also mostly sweet and malty with a prevalent spiciness (cinnamon, coriander, clove). Once again we had trouble detecting any hops. Honestly it tasted more like a spiced winter beer than an IPA (we found out later that it's brewed with citrus peel and coriander). 

As we'd feared these beers are not made for people who like craft brewed IPAs. Having detected very little hop presence in either beer we weren't exactly sure what qualified them as IPAs aside from the acronym on the label. And since the addition of wheat in the grain bill of a beer is unlikely to produce any noticeable flavors or aromas, the use of "wheat" on the label is probably nothing more than an attempt to capitalize on the success of Blue Moon's Belgian White (a wheat beer) and Widmer's Hefeweizen (also a wheat beer). Still, these are both a huge step up in flavor from macrobrews so if they can serve as a gateway beer to budding new palates then that's a good thing.

In regards to the battle it wasn't easy to choose. If we based it solely on style guidelines the Pyramid was the winner hands down since it came closest to actually being an IPA. However, if we based it purely on taste Ellen stuck with the Pyramid while I thought the Shock Top was tastier. Why they didn't just call it a Spiced Wheat Beer we'll never know. I guess we can blame it on the marketers.    
Split Decision: Ellen chose Pyramid, I chose Shock Top.